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Ireland’s proposed hate speech law receiving fierce backlash

Nov 28, 2023

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Ireland’s government is proposing hate speech laws in the wake of anti-immigration protests and fiery riots in Dublin. The riots were in response to the stabbing of three children and a teacher outside of an Irish Catholic school on Thursday, Nov. 23.

The BBC reports that the stabbing suspect, a man in his late 40s originally from Algeria but now an Irish citizen living in Ireland for two decades, has been identified. The suspect is currently under arrest and receiving medical care in a hospital.

After the attack, rumors about the suspect’s immigration status were posted and spread on social media. Rioters converged on central Dublin, setting fires to buses and cars. The rioters destroyed 11 police vehicles, damaged 13 shops and looted stores while clashing with police. Out of nearly 500 protestors, 34 people were arrested.

In response, Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the government would modernize their hate speech laws.

“I think it’s now very obvious to anyone who might have doubted us, that our incitement hatred legislation is just not up to date,” Varadkar said after Thursday’s riots. “It’s not up to date for the social media age, and we need that legislation through. And we need it through in a matter of weeks because it’s not just the platforms that have a responsibility here, and they do, it’s also the individuals who post messages and images online that stir up hatred and violence. We need to be able to use laws to go after them individually.”

The proposed legislation, Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022, was first introduced in November 2022. The bill is currently making its way through the Irish Parliament.

If enacted, the bill would prohibit the incitement of violence or “hatred against a person or group of persons on account of certain characteristics.” Those characteristics are “race, color, nationality, religion, national or ethnic origin, descent, gender, sex characteristics, sexual orientation or disability.”

The bill states a person shall be found guilty if they prepare or possess “material that is likely to incite violence or hatred against a person or a group of persons on account of their protected characteristics… with a view to the material being communicated to the public or a section of the public, whether by himself or herself or another person.”

The bill allows a judge to issue a search warrant for an alleged perpetrator’s property if law enforcement has sufficient evidence of their involvement in a hate speech crime. This includes the authority to search and seize the belongings of the alleged perpetrator and their family, such as electronic devices, documents, and diaries. Law enforcement is also empowered to compel the perpetrator to log into their devices and provide passwords for access.

Critics of the bill find it to be alarming that the bill does not define “hate.”

“‘Hatred’ shall be understood as referring to hatred based on race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin,” the bill states.

Critics contend that the bill’s definition of hatred is circular, as it defines hatred as “hatred.” The lack of a clear understanding of what precisely constitutes hate under the bill has led to pushback from critics.

In Ireland, Sen. Sharon Keogan, an Independent, has been speaking out against the proposed legislation.

“Section 9 establishes that someone can be put into jail for having incited violence without actually having incited any violence,” Keogan said during a speech in September 2023. “This is clown-world stuff. The law is there to protect people. What we have here is draconian legislation which can put someone in jail where not one single person has been harmed or victimized.”

In the United States, billionaire businessman Elon Musk has expressed concern about the legislation, describing it as “very concerning.” In an April post on his social media platform X, Musk characterized the bill as a “massive attack against freedom of speech.”

Musk also vowed to file legal action to try and stop the bill from becoming law.

Following the riots in Ireland, UFC champion Conor McGregor, an Ireland native, is reportedly under investigation by the Irish police. The investigation is related to comments he posted on X that criticized the Irish government before and after the stabbing attack.

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[LAUREN TAYLOR]
Ireland’s government is proposing “hate speech laws” in response to anti-immigration protests and riots in Dublin. Last week, riots erupted following the stabbing of three children and a teacher outside an Irish Catholic school. The suspect, a man in his late 40s originally from Algeria but now an Irish citizen, has lived in Ireland for the last 20 years and is currently hospitalized.

After the attack, rumors about the suspect’s immigration status circulated on social media, encouraging those upset about Ireland’s immigration laws to protest. Rioters converged on central Dublin, causing fires and damage. Out of nearly 500 protestors, 34 people were arrested.

In response, Ireland’s Prime Minister announced plans to modernize hate speech laws.

[LEO VARADKAR / IRELAND’S PRIME MINISTER]
“I think it’s now very obvious to anyone who might have doubted us that our incitement hatred legislation is just not up to date. It’s not up to date for the social media age. We need that legislation through, and we need it through in a matter of weeks because it’s not just the platforms that have a responsibility here, and they do. It’s also the individuals who post messages and images online that stir up hatred and violence. We need to be able to use laws to go after them individually.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

Ireland’s proposed hate speech bill, titled “Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill,” introduced in November 2022, is currently progressing through the Irish Parliament. If enacted, the bill would prohibit the incitement of violence or hatred against a person or group based on specified characteristics.

The bill also allows a judge to issue a search warrant for an alleged perpetrator’s property if there is enough evidence related to a hate speech crime. Critics of the bill find it alarming as it does not define “hate.”

[SENATOR SHARON KEOGAN]
“Section 9 establishes that someone can be put into jail for having incited violence without actually having incited any violence. This is clown-world stuff. The law is there to protect people. What we have here is draconian legislation which can put someone in jail where not one single person has been harmed or victimized.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

In the United States, billionaire businessman Elon Musk has expressed concern about the legislation, describing it as “very concerning” and a “massive attack against freedom of speech.” Musk has vowed legal action to try and stop the bill from becoming law.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Ireland’s riots, UFC champion and Ireland native Conor McGregor is reportedly under investigation by the Irish police for comments he posted on ‘X’ criticizing the Irish government just before and after the stabbing attack.